Trail work gives youths dirty hands-on skills


POSTED: Monday, August 10, 2009

Lahiki Coelho stood in ankle-high mud as she terraced dirt steps on Manoa Cliff Trail.

Earlier, she had cleared a fallen tree from a Makiki trail and was amazed at what a difference the work made for hikers.

“;To see the before and after was like, 'Oh, my gosh, we did that,'”; Coelho said.

She was among 11 young adults who hiked through the mud and worked through the rain on Tantalus last week under the auspices of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps and Na Ala Hele, which maintains 45 public hiking trails on Oahu.

Coelho, 25, worked with Na Ala Hele as part of an eight-week paid internship through the conservation corps, a nonprofit program administered by the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Manoa Cliff Trail was one of 10 her team, Na Ala Hele Vista, worked on this summer.

The summer program hired 150 teenagers and young adults, giving them hands-on educational experience to encourage the preservation of Hawaii's natural resources through a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pahole Natural Area Reserve and Paepae o Heeia.

The conservation corps is seeking 45 more applicants for year-round positions.

“;One of the most important things is to get people involved, especially young people,”; said Brittney Orton, a conservation corps coordinator. “;If they don't care about these type of things, then it's going to be lost. It makes them all care a little bit more to what happens to Hawaii.”;

Orton added that about 54,800 service hours by conservation corps interns translate to more than $1 million in work.

Among the last to finish their summer duties, the Na Ala Hele Vista team camped on Tantalus until Thursday to work on building a bridge and clearing the path at Manoa Cliff Trail.

Fred Bannan, trail technician, was one of the leaders for the project and works for the conservation corps year-round.

“;They (the interns) help us do a lot of projects. It gets them interested in the field,”; Bannan said. “;Hopefully, they'll be able to keep helping with stuff like this or get jobs so they can take over for us later.”;

Liam Mueller hopes to do just that. He signed up for the youth conservation corps three years ago and was initially interested in marine conservation. However, after spending three summers in local forests, Mueller, 18, now studies forest ecology at Evergreen College in Washington state.

“;When I first started, I was much more into the marine side of conservation, but by being in the trails and seeing all those things definitely inspired me,”; said Mueller. He said he enjoys learning about how invasive species arrived in Hawaii and whether local species could eradicate them.

Payten Purdy, another member of the Na Ala Hele Vista team, called the job a “;blessing.”;

“;I get to get paid for what I would want to do anyway. I get to hike and experience new things that I've never done before,”; he said.

Interns receive a stipend upon completion, paid for by sponsors such as the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kamehameha Schools, AmeriCorps, the state Department of Health and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“;There's so many good benefits besides getting paid,”; said Purdy. “;Just knowing people who actually care for the land, who give and not just take—it inspires me to do the same.”;